Serbia break Slovenian hearts with last gasp equaliser

June 20 – For Serbia, last-gasp euphoria that almost certainly prevented elimination. For Slovenia, utter heartbreak as they agonisingly missed on a first ever Euro finals victory. 

Oh, the nerve-shredding drama that only football can produce.

Six of the previous eight meetings between these two sides had ended in a draw but no-one could have anticipated the kind of finale we witnessed in Munich that saw the spoils shared again and kept both sides in with a chance of progressing from Group C.

Slovenia, the smallest nation by population at Euro 2024, were literally seconds away from celebrating a momentous victory, only for one final Serbian corner to be met by substitute Luka Jovic whose header found the bottom of net, in the process ripping almost certain qualification for the knockout stage from Slovenia’s grasp.

Now it’s all about what both sides can muster in their respective final games against England and Denmark.

Zan Karnicnik scored first for Slovenia 

Having lost to England, this was a game Serbia simply couldn’t lose and as anticipated their captain Dusan Tadic, who had the hump at being left out against England, was restored to the starting lineup.

But it was UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin’s Slovenia who made all the early running, winning the tactical battle and creating a couple of highly presentable chances.

In fact it took Serbia 25 minutes to get going, dangerman Dusan Vlahovic heading straight at keeper Jan Oblak.

Still, Slovenia were creating the better chances and Timi Max Elsnik had their best, rifling the ball against the post and then seeing teammate Benjamin Sesko lash the rebound wide.

Oblek raced off his line to thwart Aleksander Mitrovic as halftime approached but there was little doubt which team had posed the greater first-half threat.

Luka Jovic equalised for Serbia in final minute

Slovenia’s sole finals appearance came at EURO 2000, when they finished bottom of Group C behind Spain, Yugoslavia and Norway.

It was the same year Serbia also appeared – but as part of Yugoslavia when, having finished second behind Spain in their section, they lost 6-1 to co-hosts the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.

In other words, this was a crunch fixture for both countries. As if we didn’t know it.

Cue the second half and three minutes into it, Mijat Gacinovic swung in a tasty cross for Serbia and Jaka Bijol was relieved to see the ball go wide when he took a carefree swipe to try and clear.

When the clock passed the 65-minute mark, we had gone the longest without in goal in the tournament to date but it didn’t take long for one to come.

Three minutes later, Slovenian fullback Zan Karnicnik broke upfield, spread the ball right to left and drifted into the box to convert Elsnick’s cross, albeit half-hit.

Milos Veljkovic celebrates Serbia’s point

For Serbia it was a defensive shambles but for the whole of Slovenia, underdogs maybe but who came into the tournament on a seven-match unbeaten run, it promised dreamland.

Serbian coach Dragan Stojkovic’s response was to pull off a couple of his most trusted cohorts, including Tadic and Vlahovic, and rely on fresh legs.

While it had the desired effect in terms of his team upping the tempo, they were not decisive enough in front of goal.

Until….

As cups and other missiles rained down from the massed ranks of Serbian fans who sensed a last-16 place evaporating, Ivan Ilic’s delivery sailed over Oblak’s head and was met by Jovik, sparking utter pandemonium.

Poor Slovenia. There was not even time for the game to restart and their players sank to the floor in tearful despair.  Instead of a deserved three points, they now need something big against England on Monday – as of course do Serbia against Denmark though the shift in momentum, which means everything in football, may yet play a huge part in the eventual outcome.

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